Simple Questions for Artists #1 – Enough of survival…it’s overrated!

by Geoff Hall on October 27, 2015

October 2015 – Enough of survival…

An article full of quotes.

The Group logo, designed by Barry Dunnage

The Group logo, designed by Barry Dunnage


I think survival is overrated, how about you?

“I have come that you have Life, so that you may survive”, doesn’t come into it. I think living life to the full, means that it isn’t about reducing it all to a survival plan. We have to have an idea of how to thrive.


I received one of Seth Godin’s emails entitled ‘Simple Questions for Writers’, the other week which I shared on The Group’s Facebook page,

  1. Who Are you?
  2. What is it for?
  3. Who is it for?
  4. Will it spread?


I’ve changed the order of those questions to start with ‘Who are you’? Why? Because being a writer, an artist, starts with knowing what you bring, not what you do. So over the next four monthly letters I’ll be following these questions, because I think it will help us grasp the nature of the task before us.

At times of course it does feel like we’re just surviving, but maybe we pay too much attention to survival skills, rather than the four questions set before us; moving from survival to thriving in our cultural calling.

Richard Rohr wrote that ‘only transformed people can transform people’. (From his Daily Meditations, 8th August, 2015). It struck a chord in me and it reminded me of another similar pithy statement, by Jacques Ellul “you cannot bring justice if you are not just.”

All the guns in the world will not bring peace, only the peacemakers will create peace. Martin Luther King said that ‘Violence will only bring violence, hate will only bring hate.’ The peace we bring has to be within us. What you bring, tells us who you are.


One of the best descriptions I’ve found was from Sufi poet Rumi, who said that we are the ‘shadow of love’ on the earth. I think that’s a beautiful analogy. The One we love is indeed Love and it is through love that we know ourselves. Tom Wright calls it the epistemology of love. Only through loving with all your heart, mind, soul and strength will you know who you are. This can be problematic if like me, your experience is one of survival, when love seems to be of the unrequited kind.  Which brings me back to Richard Rohr, who quoted CG Jung and this little gem,


“The greater light you have the greater shadow you cast.”


To cast that shadow of love we have to be close to the light, reflecting it like a mirror to a world clothed in the darkness of an unrelenting violence.

Seth Godin’s question ‘Who are you?’ focused on the ‘what’ of what we do and not the ‘who’ of what we do. Whilst we could wax eloquently and mystically about who we are, the starting point for this knowledge is to be found in Love, not of the text, but at the core of my – our – being. A clue to our calling is to be found in this mystery and when our work meets the public gaze, it must be with this knowledge at heart, otherwise all we are is copyists and propagandists.

This mystery is best explored in stillness and not in theological or philosophical discourse and certainly not in the power of rationalising this or that argument. As Rohr would say, it’s about practice and not a belief-system. It is through stillness that we can know and that in knowing we will be transformed, because transformation never comes through ignorance.

My Name is Sorrow title, as designed by Chris Lorensson. 2012

My Name is Sorrow title, as designed by Chris Lorensson. 2012

I had a bit of an epiphany a few years ago, during the production of ‘My Name Is Sorrow’, that the focus of my work as a writer should be on ‘justice’ and so my emphasis has changed to a focus on human rights and social justice. This doesn’t mean making endless campaign films, but actually in the genres I want to pursue storytelling in, it was kind of liberating.


Liberating because there’s a lot of noise being made in Los Angeles about blending genres, of fusing together tropes, themes and genres to create new imaginative stories. There’s even chatter about telling Transmedia stories, that is, telling tales across media platforms –  but more of that at a later date. The digital revolution gives ‘we the artists’ a greater scope for our creativity. This is the environment then of thriving and not surviving; of moving away from a dissatisfied coping, moving beyond being tenacious or resilient and actually ‘feeling the love’, rather than hearing other people talking about it.

And Finally, Richard Rohr suggests we speak this out loud to ourselves and then change the ‘I’ to a friend or family member.


May I be free from inner and outer harm and danger.

May I be safe and protected.

May I be free of mental suffering or distress.

May I be happy.

May I be free of physical pain and suffering.

May I be healthy and strong.

May I be able to live in this world happily, peacefully, joyfully, with ease.


So, who are you? And what do you bring to this broken world?

Your own wounds or the knowledge that you’re loved without question. Your art needs no human justification and to be an artist, neither do you!


Be Well.



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